Back To The Future: 25 years of Cost Sector Catering... and counting

02/01/2018 - 14:29
Twenty five years on from the first issue of Cost Sector Catering, we are busy making plans for the next quarter of a century. David Foad reports on the story so far …

It all began in February 1993, when the first issue of Cost Sector Catering landed on the desks of the leaders, directors and managers working in ‘staff, welfare and institutional catering’.

It’s certainly not a glamorous-sounding area of the catering market and any search for connections between the early 1990s and today will quickly alight on the difficulty the public sector still has in selling itself as a career option for students in catering colleges.

The industry prefers to call itself foodservice now, but school leavers considering a career in catering and chefs in training still overwhelmingly look to the world of restaurants before any other option.

But no matter the cosmetic name changes we have seen since, that first issue set the tone for the sort of magazine readers have been reading over the following 25 years – serious, business-focused and analytical.

The industry news it covered included a group of local authority direct service organisations (DSOs) that had jointly-funded a TV advertisement promoting school meals that had subsequently seen a rise in take-up – by as much as 15% in Scotland.

There was also Charlton House, now CH&Co and founded by the late Robyn Jones, which had won the staff feeding contract at BUPA’s head office from catering giant Gardner Merchant (now Sodexo).

It wasn’t all bad news for Gardner Merchant, though, as chief executive Garry Hawkes announced a £400m venture capital financed buy-out of the company from former owner Forte.

In an echo of the arguments leading up to the EU referendum, EC (European Community)-directed changes to TUPE regulations were being blamed by contractors as a stumbling block to them bidding for public sector contracts, with Jim Cartwright of Shaw Catering saying they would make contractors uncompetitive.

And continuing the theme of echoes down the years, the Government proposal to abolish wages councils carries with it distinct elements of the arguments heard to today about the introduction of the National Minimum Wage.

The Low Pay Unit argued that ‘cowboy’ firms undercut minimum rates, while the British Hospitality Association felt the measure could help create jobs.

Meanwhile, Ron Anderson, former regional catering officer for the West Midlands Health Authority, argued in an opinion piece that competitive tendering for NHS contracts showed that in-house caterers were very efficient because they continued to hold 90% of contracts in the sector.

In school catering news, the publication of the Caroline Walker Trust Nutritional Guidelines for School Meals in late 1992, continued to prompt debate into the new year.

The trust was just one of 57 organisations, including LACA, that comprised the School Meals Campaign that was active at the time.

The Campaign said it was worried about the nutritional content of children’s diets and believed that school meals provided an opportunity to ensure that they get ‘at least one nutritionally balanced meal a day’.

The concerns sound eerily familiar, don’t they?

This quick run through of the very first issue provides confirmation that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

If that sounds like too much of a downbeat note on which to embark another 25-year journey, then we should remember all those involved today who are just as concerned about the challenges and just as determined to find a way through the difficulties.

Like those working in ‘staff, welfare and institutional catering’ back in 1993, their counterparts in 2018 are driven by a concern not only to do a god job, but to never forget who they work for – vulnerable people, young and old, who need extra care.

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